You can be that help within reach
It's a Friday night and I'm on call for the local sexual violence resource center, Support Within Reach.
I don't get cell reception in the movie theater, so that is out. I have my burger with iced tea instead of a beer, and I refrain from traveling for the weekend. These small sacrifices are made for one big job, being a sexual violence advocate. Usually we have an army of volunteers who are the first in line for responding to a hospital call or a crisis call. Being summer, our volunteer numbers are dwindling; however, our incidents of sexual violence are steady as usual.
When the phone rings at 2 a.m., I'm groggy, but ready to go. Shoot, where did I put my pen? The voice on the other end relays the message to me "call the hospital, sexual assault victim presented, SANE in transit." I call the hospital as I throw on my jeans, gargle the night breath away, and grab my car keys. I'm there as soon as I can.
When I arrive at the hospital, I head through the ER to find the client. We never know exactly what to expect, and that's OK, it's part of the job. I've experienced clients that are hiding out of fear, angry, crying, unresponsive, laughing with friends and totally asleep. They have been through a trauma. They were violated beyond words, having all their power and control ripped from them. Our role as advocates is to be the calm in the storm. We provide information, support and options. We care deeply about our work and strive to be a constant during an especially chaotic time.
As the SANE arrives (the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner), we take a back seat and allow them to ask the questions needed to collect data. They do a forensic exam, swabbing areas of the victim's body that came into contact with the offender. The nurse is compassionate, caring and professional in her duties. She diligently collects evidence, provides comfort and hope. As advocates, we do whatever we can to support her in this process. Sometimes we get a warm blanket, or a cup of juice and some crackers, help get a request for antibiotics to pharmacy or check on family in the waiting room. Our job is also to be a distraction so the data collection process is less invasive.
As sexual violence advocates, we also explain the criminal process and describe what will happen if they want to make a police report. Once these unknowns are answered, if they haven't already reported, the client usually asks us to make a call to law enforcement. When the officer or deputy arrives, they too are engaged, thorough and sensitive to the needs of the victim. As the victim recounts the incident, I will stay with the client, providing continuity and support.
In the last quarter, Support Within Reach advocates and volunteers have had 15 of these calls to local hospitals including at Sanford in Bemidji and Bagley, Cass Lake Indian Health Services and St. Joseph's Hospital in Park Rapids. We also attended to 10 after-hour crisis calls where victims or family called needing support. SWR desperately needs good-hearted people from within the community to step up and help us provide comfort and advocacy. We provide a free, 40-hour, state-mandated training to all of our volunteers at least twice a year. Our next training will take place in October and it is our hope more people will step up and join us on the front lines of this curable plague of sexual violence. In the meantime, know that such violence exists and that there is help and hope.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer advocate for Support Within Reach Sexual Violence Resource Center, please contact us at (218) 444-9524 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kelly Brevig is a Program Supervisor/Prevention Education Coordinator for Support Within Reach. Reach her at (218) 444-9524 or (800) 708-2727.